By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4)– The federal government has reversed course and canceled 25 oil and gas leases in Western Colorado.
The Obama Administration has been studying the leases for some time, but analysts say the election likely sped-up the decision.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and Governor John Hickenlooper announced the decision at the state Capitol saying it would protect a pristine natural resource.
“This 220,000-acre tract of land is home to some of the best fishing holes,” said Hickenlooper.
But, the Thompson Divide is also home to the Mancos Shale Formation, which the U.S. Geological Survey says is the second-largest natural gas resource in the country.
The Bureau of Land Management had granted 65 leases here in 2005. Ten years later, it’s changed its mind about 25 of them.
“It is definitely a taking of property. It is definitely a breaking of a contract,” says Kathleen Sgamma with Western Energy Alliance, which represents hundreds of oil and gas companies.
She claims the BLM used a technicality to breach its contract.
“It’s as if you bought a house in 2005 and 10 years later the seller comes and says, ‘Oh, I forgot to sign page five of that 30-page contract so now that house is still mine.’”
But, the BLM insists a new environmental study, launched after a challenge of the leases by Pitkin County, found new concerns.
Sgamma says it’s not coincidental that the decision comes in the final weeks of the Obama Administration. Both sides agree it will be very difficult for a Trump Administration to undo.
“They’re records of decision that have been made after years of consultation with industry. The leases are canceled so a change in administration should make no difference in that,” says Jewell.
Congress could reverse the decision, but Hickenlooper says it’s not likely.
“I think this is exactly what the president-elect has championed as he’s gone through his campaign is letting local communities try to hear all sides and have a balanced decision,” said Hickenlooper.
The Western Energy Alliance says it is considering taking the BLM to court over what it calls a breach of contract.
Hickenlooper and Jewell also finalized a decision, that the industry was a part of, to ban drilling on top of the Roan Plateau.